What is the Perfume Project?

This blog is a constantly evolving forum for thoughts on perfume, perfume-making, plants (especially orchids and flora of the Pacific Northwest) and life in general. It started out chronicling the adventures of Olympic Orchids Perfumes, established in July 2010, and has expanded in other directions. A big part of the blog is thinking about the ongoing process of learning and experimentation that leads to new perfumes, the exploration of perfumery materials, the theory and practice of perfume making, the challenges of marketing perfumes and other fragrance products, and random observations on philosophy and society. Spam comments will be marked as such and deleted; any comments that go beyond the boundaries of civil discourse will also be deleted. I am grateful to all of you, the readers, who contribute to the blog by commenting and making this a truly interactive perfume project.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


It gives me enormous pleasure to introduce guest blogger Gail Gross, who will be posting here from time to time. I first met Gail through this blog, where I discovered our mutual interest in perfume and fragrant materials. Best of all, Gail lives in the Seattle area, within visiting distance, so we’ve gotten together in person several times to smell, talk, hike, eat, and generally enjoy one another’s company. It turns out that we both love oud oils, so I thought a fun project would be to get together periodically for an “Oud Fest” where we smell different ouds, ranging from the real to the “real” and the unreal, compare notes, and write about our impressions.
Where to start? It seemed to me that the most helpful approach would be to start out with a set of oils that have a high probability of being the genuine article, and move down the ladder from there. That way we should theoretically have a benchmark to know what real, high-quality oud should smell like, and a solid basis for evaluation of everything else. At the time of our first Oud Fest, I had samples from Ensar Oud and Oud Select, and was waiting for samples from Agar Aura to arrive. I’m happy to say that I now have six of Agar Aura’s samples to add to the first round of testing. Here is Gail’s report.
OUD FEST 1 began with sixteen samples of fine quality, medium priced oud oils [medium priced for oud, that is, which is outrageously expensive by most standards]. Due to their complexity we only managed to test four of them that afternoon.
The first oil tested was Ensar Oud's "Oud Yusuf", a thick, honey colored Thai oil applied to the left wrists of the two participants. "Oud Yusuf's" initial note was the familiar barnyard oud scent, immediately morphing into a sharp, woody-spicy fragrance with a faint camphorous edge. After about 10 minutes the wood warmed to a peachy, dried fruit and then to a juicy, fresh floral. At about 45 minutes, the oil took on the character of a sugary confection, thin and transparent with an open sweetness characterized by occasional references to wood, fruit and fresh breezes. "Oud Yusuf" left a distinct visual impression, a sense of a translucent blue/violet gauze finishing as a veil of very pale lilac; not the scent of lilac, but the color, elegant, light and invigorating.
The next oil was another Thai offering from Ensar Oud, "Crassna Cha", a very dark, thick oil applied to the right wrists. "Crassna Cha" started with a smoky, scorched odor. After about 5 minutes the scent turned to that of an old musty attic or my grandmother's closet. Approximately 10 minutes later the mustiness suddenly disappeared, replaced by a fruity/spice that eventually evolved into a scent of dry grass, weeds and hay. Within an hour, a green, woody freshness developed and lingered through the life of the scent. "Crassna Cha" was truly a shape shifter.

The third oil tested was a Borneo, Ensar Oud's "Kalbar 3000". This dark, amber colored oil was applied to the participants' left arms below the elbows. "Kalbar 3000" opened with a fermenting bark dust note that immediately morphed into a sharp, woody scent. After about 5 minutes, a surprising, wet odor, like rain on dry earth, appeared. A phenolic scent was also noticed about the same time. The "rainstorm" was soon replaced by a booziness reminiscent of a cake or plum pudding soaked in bourbon with the addition of davana, raisins and fermenting grapes. This boozy, honeyed, phenolic, fruity scent lingered through the dry down.
The last oil sampled was Oud Select's "Borneo Bliss" another dark amber oil applied to the right arms below the elbows. "Borneo Bliss" began with hints of barn and bark dust, quickly opening to the comforting scent of sweet, warm skin. In approximately 5 minutes this odor evolved into a strong buttery scent with a hint of barnyard, creating the effect of a farm kitchen filled with warmth and baked goods. A whisper of davana, a breath of fermentation, nutty raisins and berries, honey and dairy were evident through the comforting, woody/spiced finish beginning about 45 minutes after application.
Conclusions: Each oil tested presented a distinct scent profile as well as a geographic signature. The Thai oils were fruity and floral while those from Borneo were warm and gourmand. The sillage of the Borneo oils was more intimate than that of the Thais. The longevity of both types was at least six hours with the Thai oils lasting until the morning after application. Any one of these oils would be a treat to own but we seemed to agree that "Oud Yusuf" was the most wearable of the oils tested.
After several hours of testing both our noses were overwhelmed with oud. The OUD FEST participants and one spectator adjourned to the local pizza parlor where we sampled 3 types of mini pizzas, meatballs, and beer, all the while sniffing our wrists and arms.
Ellen’s postscript: I’m not sure that Oud Yusuf was my “favorite”, even though I agree with Gail that, of the four, it would probably be the most generally approachable and appealing to the most people. Each was gorgeous in its own way, and I would definitely enjoy wearing any of them. It’s amazing how far a little dab of oud will go, how much pleasure one can get from it, and how hard it is to decide which one is “best”. I think for me, a big part of the enjoyment is the diversity and the contrast across the different distillations of oud.
[Reviews based on samples purchased from Ensar Oud and Oud Select. Photos of Thai flowers, Thai rainforest, Borneo rainforest, and Borneo cloud forest from WIkimedia. Farm kitchen painting by Frank Shapleigh, late 19th century] 


  1. Thanks Gail and Ellen. This is fascinating, as is a tour through Ensar's website. Looking forward to the rest of the fest.

    Pesonally, the only oud experience I have is with an Ajmal alcohol-based scent, Faihaa. The oud note alters between "barnyard" and "bandaid" and so dominates the opening that it is hard for me to perceive any of the stated floral notes.

    -- Lindaloo

    1. Lindaloo, The Oud Fest can go on almost infinitely as we get into perfumes that contain the oud note. In fact, I was just going through a box of untested samples and found Luckyscent's "oud" pack that I got quite a while ago and haven't yet tested.

      Ensar's website is indeed interesting. It takes a while to tour it!

  2. Hi, Gail, great to see you here!
    I'm so glad you are reviewing these, I've been hankering after them for awhile. I've always gotten my oud fix from incense, preferably Baieido or Minorien from Japan. I have several synthetic ouds, they are very simple compared to the real deal, so I'm looking forward to your views on the synth ouds, too!

    1. Marla, It's great to have Gail on board! We're planning to do the synthetic ouds, too, after we do the real ones. I hankered after those sample sets for a long time, wondering if I could justify the expense, but have to say that a little goes a very long way and I've definitely gotten my money's worth of enjoyment from them.

      I've been trying a lot of incense, too. The oils are quite different from the incense, much richer. Maybe you would like to become the incense reviewer for this blog?

  3. Hi Lindaloo,

    I am not familiar with the Ajma scent "Faihaa" but I do think it very interesting that the oils we tested, described as pure oud oils, actually have a more obvious complexity than the compounded perfume you describe. It amazes me that oud oil alone can smell like so many other things and that these oils can be perceived as having top, middle and base notes just like a perfume with many ingredients.


    1. I'm not familiar with the Ajmal scent, either, but I do know that natural oud oils have a unique complexity that rivals or exceeds the most complex compounded perfume. That's why I would consider it a waste to use pure oud oil in a compounded perfume where a good synthetic will do the job. It would be like mixing a fine wine with fruit juice or soda.

  4. Marla,

    This has been a lot of fun! The subject of oud oils and oud incense is so vast. It involves issues of rainforest preservation, plantation culture, choice of fermentation and distillation processes, grading, distribution and then, of course, the problems and promises of blends and synthetics, "the real, the 'real' and the unreal". Taking on only synthetics is a great idea, Marla, and is as complex a topic as pure natural oud.